Let me warn you right now: There’s no known cure. Soon your eyes will be squinty and red from trying to interpret indecipherable squiggles of 19th-century handwriting. Your right arm will begin to be more muscular than your left, the result of cranking reels of microfilm in search of clues about your ancestors. Your mouse-clicking hand will start to develop a cramp and assume a permanent claw-like shape. You may find yourself taking what other family members consider an unhealthy interest in cemeteries and tombstones.
You’ve caught the genealogy bug. The good news is: Although you’re suddenly spending a lot of time thinking about dead people, it’s not fatal.
It is catching, though. According to American Demographics magazine, genealogy is America’s fastest-growing hobby. Depending on what source you believe (and family historians know all about conflicting sources!), genealogy is the nation’s second or third most popular leisure activity. It’s the second most frequently found topic on the Internet.
Ancestor addiction is showing up everywhere. Ellis Island hosts some 2 million visitors a year, and when it unveiled a Web site of immigrant passenger records <www.ellisisland.org> the response became the biggest launch in Internet history. You’ll find more about Ellis Island and how to start exploring your immigrant roots in this issue.
Ancestry.com <Ancestry.com > has grown to be one of the Web’s largest subscription-based sites behind Consumer Reports but neck-and-neck with the Wall Street Journal. But it’s only the tip of the iceberg of online genealogy. You can learn how to get started researching online, and we’ll show how to download whole branches of your family tree.
(Note, by the way, that throughout this special issue we put Web site addresses between <> brackets. Not all Web addresses begin with www or end in .com, so this makes it clear what to type into your browser. Don’t, however, type the brackets.)
Then there’s the Family History Library in Salt Lake City <www.familysearch.org>, which gets more than 800,000 visitors a year. You don’t have to trek to Utah to take advantage of much of this treasure trove, though. As we explain in this issue, you can tap the riches of the Family History Library right in your own backyard at your local Family History Center.
And, of course, we might modestly note that our own Family Tree Magazine now reaches 170,000 readers every other month. Just three years after our launch, we’re already by far the nation’s favorite family history magazine.
This special issue from the editors of Family Tree Magazine is designed to help you make the most of being bitten by the genealogy bug. Whether you’re just starting in genealogy or have been at it for awhile and just need a fresh start, we’ll walk you through the essential first steps, answer your most frequently asked questions and help find the clues in your old family photos. Once you start finding your ancestors, we even provide a variety of forms for recording your research results. Copy them as needed, or download these and other forms at our Web site <www.familytreemagazine.com>, where you’ll find a whole Toolkit full of resources, links and ideas.
You can also treat the genealogy bug with weekly doses of our free e-mail newsletter. Sign up at <www.familytreemagazine.com/enews>.